On the 21st anniversary of the infamous Loma Prieta earthquake that rocked the Bay Area just before the opening of the 1989 World Series between the A’s and Giants, the Raiders and 49ers got together to settle a different sort of battle — but for the same bragging rights. Unlike the A’s 21 years ago, the Raiders weren’t able to take home those bragging rights.
The Oakland Raiders (2-4) hoped to come into Candlestick Park and get their second straight victory for the first time since the end of 2008, and they began the game like they would get it. Even while leading for most of the game, the Raiders weren’t able to find an offensive rhythm after the first quarter, and it led to a 17-9 loss to the San Francisco 49ers (1-5).
“The game really comes down to opportunity,” said Raiders head coach Tom Cable. “We had a ton of opportunity, offensively, to score. We did not score, we’re not very good in the red zone.”
The Raiders had the ball for 12 of 15 minutes in the first quarter. On their first series of the game, the offense put together a 13 play, 79 yard drive that lasted 7:58, but the result was a 27 yard field goal by Sebastian Janikowski. On the drive, the Raiders moved the ball down the San Francisco four yard line, before Langston Walker was called for illegal formation — giving the Raiders a second and goal from the nine yard line.
At the end of the first quarter, the Raiders were in their second series, driving much like they had in the first one. This drive would stall at the 49ers six yard line and result in a Janikowski 24 yard field goal. The Raiders’ second drive went 12 plays, 85 yards, and lasted 6:22, effectively putting the home team on the ropes, but with just a 6-0 lead and more than two quarters left in the game, the 49ers were more than in the game.
That would be the closest the Raiders would come to winning the game. After a three and out by the Niners, the Raiders had their best field position of the game at their own 34. Their third drive would last just one play — an interception thrown by Jason Campbell. The pass was intended for Zach Miller, but 49ers linebacker Manny Lawson made a diving catch in front of the tight end for the pick.
“Ah, you know really just keep my guy,” said Lawson of how he was able to get the pick. “I saw the ball thrown and it was my play to make, and I made it.”
While the interception resulted in the 49ers punting the ball back to the Raiders, it was clearly the turning point of the game. The Raiders wouldn’t get another first down until there was just 10:05 left in the game, which came on a broken play pass to Zach Miller. Five of six series, the Raiders drives went three and out and the one series that didn’t was a kneel down to end the first half.
Because of their offensive futility, the Raiders had gone from a 12:00 to 3:00 time of possession advantage after the first quarter to a 24:53 to 20:07 disadvantage at the end of the third. By that time, the 49ers were up 10-6 and in full control of the game.
“It was tough,” said Campbell (8-21-0, 83 yards, 2 INT, 10.7 QB RTG.) of getting a passing rhythm on offense. “I just didn’t feel like we got to the rhythm, and just felt like, it’s a slug-fest, but at the same time, we gotta make some plays.”
The 49ers got on the board just before the end of the first half by using 10 plays and 2:10 of the final 2:18 in the half to drive 77 yards for a 25 yard field goal by Joe Nedney. The drive got off the ground on second and five from the 49ers 21, when Alex Smith (16-33-2, 196 yards, 87.4 QB RTG.) found Brian Westbrook on a short pass to the left flat. Westbrook caught the pass went 19 yards to the San Francisco 40. Four plays later, Smith found Josh Morgan for 35 yards to get to the Raiders 13. The drive stalled at the seven, but the momentum continued to swing towards the 49ers’ direction as the half ended with the Raiders leading 6-3.
The score would remain the same until the last play of the third quarter. After Smith was called for intentional grounding, the 49ers had a second and 20 from the Raiders’ 32 with five seconds to go in the quarter. Michael Crabtree, who had been held in check to that point, streaked down the right side of the field wide open for Smith’s touchdown toss in the middle of the end zone — giving San Francisco a 10-6 lead.
The Raiders had practiced this situation all week, according to Nnamdi Asomugha. “That situation was a play we practiced during the week. We went to the zone and they beat us and they shouldn’t have beat us on that play because we knew it was coming. Our safety just has to get his head around and make that play.”
The Raiders would finally get another first down in the fourth quarter, and it would lead to an eight play drive that went 55 yards to the San Francisco 22. Unfortunately for the Silver and Black, the drive would stall and Janikowski was called out for a 40 yard field goal that left them still trailing the 49ers 10-9.
While it was the first sign of any sort of change in momentum going back to the Raiders, it lasted all of about a few seconds. On the 49ers first play from scrimmage after the Raiders’ final field goal, Frank Gore ran a power right for 64 yards and placed San Francisco on the Raiders’ 16. Two plays later, Smith found tight end Vernon Davis wide open on the left side of the field for a 17 yard touchdown.
With the score now 17-9 in favor of the 49ers, with just 7:08 remaining, the Raiders’ offense went back into the shell it had escaped a series earlier. They would get the ball twice more and not get a first down either time. On the Raiders final possession, Campbell threw to rookie Jacoby Ford on third and three. The Rookie, coming left on a quick slant route had the ball go right into his chest, bounce out and end up in the hands of San Francisco linebacker Takeo Spikes for the pick.
“It’s big man,” said Spikes of the 49ers ability to win the turnover battle on the day. “I mean the proof is in the pudding. People ask, ‘Why this? Why that?’ We were able to get turnovers and we didn’t turn the ball over; point blank period.”
The 49ers came into the game with a (-10) turnover ratio, but finished the game at (+2). “As an offense, we didn’t execute,” said Zach Miller (2 rcpts for 48 yards) after the game.